The autumn and early winter months are the time many of us put meat in the freezer. Now is the time to celebrate the bounty of those hunts on the dining room table.
I think we often have a tendency to cook game the same way every time someone takes one of those packages of venison, or birds, or fish out of the freezer.
A few years ago, our church used to hold an annual wild game dinner we’d refer to as the “Beast Feast.” We had some good dinners, though I’d occasionally come home thinking that a dozen variations of pot roast was a bit much, and I would have loved an elk roast, for example, grilled over charcoal to medium rare and served with horseradish sauce.
Similarly, many always cook pheasants in a slow cooker along with a can or two of cream of mushroom soup. The results may be delicious, but not particularly adventurous.
For this reason I like to keep my eyes open for new recipes, or new cookbooks that help us branch out a bit when we put wild game on the table. One prolific cookbook author is Hank Shaw, whose background is in food journalism and cooking. He has four cookbooks out, covering waterfowl, big game, and small game. Check his website at https://honest-food.net. I’ll also give a shout-out for Montana cookbook author Eileen Clarke. Check https://riflesandrecipes.com.
The latest game cookbook comes from Steven Rinella, who has had TV shows on cable networks, currently on Netflix, and his book is The Meateater Fish and Game Cookbook.
Rinella has several other books to his credit, but I liked this one, as it covers a variety of wild foods, from crayfish and bullfrogs, fresh and saltwater fish, upland birds, waterfowl, small game such as rabbits and squirrels, and big game. People who have watched his TV programs or YouTube videos are likely familiar with his themes of public land hunting followed by cooking the products of the hunt, often featuring how to utilize parts of critters that often get left in the field for the coyotes and magpies to clean up.
This cookbook has a lot of basics, such as step-by-step directions of field dressing fallen game, butchering—both at home or out in the field when necessary. Each section has similar themes, such as filleting fish, plucking ducks or skinning squirrels, along with recipes for fish and game.
One of the recipes I tried from the book was Osso Bucco, a traditional Italian dish usually made from veal shanks. This one was for deer shanks, with suggestions for modifying the recipe for larger animals, such as elk or moose, or smaller ones such as antelope. He comments that, “I haven’t yet met a shank I don’t like.” The Osso Bucco that I made from whitetail deer shanks turned out tender and delicious, with a marvelous pan sauce. He suggests serving it with polenta and a gremolata sauce as a condiment, and includes recipes for both polenta and gremolata sauce in a separate section.
I’d suggest that this isn’t a complete cookbook, in that there aren’t a lot of recipes in section, as much as guidelines for cooking. It strikes me that this would be a great cookbook for someone who does something of everything but is still learning. There are lots of cookbooks but not many have detailed directions for butchering a snapping turtle, for example. The next step might be to check some other of Rinella’s books, or many other books.
There are, as mentioned previously, other fish and game cookbooks on the market, not to mention books from years past that are probably out of print, but might be found at a used book bookstore or garage sale. In addition, you can likely find a recipe for cooking just about anything, or combination of things, by doing an online search on the internet.
Hunting, whether for upland birds or big game, can be an adventure. I like to celebrate success in the field with a little adventure in the kitchen.